Lords debates government policies on disabled people

06 May 2011

Lord Fellowes of West Stafford gave his maiden speech in the House of Lords on Thursday 5 May in a debate about the impact of government policies on disabled people.

Issues discussed during the course of debate included:

  • the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill  
  • the new descriptors in the work capability assessment
  • the Hardest Hit rally and lobby of Parliament, due to take place on Wednesday 11 May 2011
  • social care provision by local authorities
  • the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independent Payment (PIP)

Lord Fellowes of West Stafford

Being dismissed by ‘people who do not take trouble to know you at all’ had been personal experience Lord Fellowes of Stafford said. ‘Deselected'  from the role in which he had been cast because the star would not work with a Conservative, his ‘unfashionable allegiance to the Tories’ rendered him ‘quite wrong for the prevailing zeitgeist,’ he explained. ‘Possibly no group suffers more from a sometimes benevolent but still ignorant tendency to lump them all together than disabled people,’ Lord Fellowes said. However, disability was no guide to personality or potential.

The technicians that record the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Talking Books are ‘a living demonstration that disability need not be an embargo to an interesting career, requiring specialist knowledge and highly developed skills,’ Lord Fellowes said. ‘Surely this must be the guiding principle of any government support for the disabled: a permanent and funded emphasis on helping them take their place.’

Lord Fellowes called for the Employment and Support Allowance to be as ‘strongly defended as is compatible with the coalition's plans’ in face of the need for cuts in government spending: ‘There is a suggestion that one year's assistance to find work is to be considered enough, the period to include the 13 weeks required by the initial assessment. However, there is such a thing as a false economy and, as my late mother used to say, "sometimes it's cheaper to pay".’ 

In closing Lord Fellowes said he was confident that is one human right all would defend: That is the right to dream. Disabled people must be allowed their dreams of how they would spend their lives, as well as a reasonable chance to achieve them. If their ambitions are unlikely, so what?’ he said. ‘However, the dreams of most of our disabled community are not unlikely; they are quite realistic, if they can only persuade our society to treat them as fully paid-up members of it.’

Lord Fellowes of West Stafford (Conservative), is Ambassador for Breast Cancer Haven, Changing Faces UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. Julian Fellowes is an actor, film director and screenwriter.

Contributors to the debate

Other Members of the Lord who took part in the debate included (use the links below to watch/listen to their contributions):

Lord Low of Dalston (Crossbench), will open the debate. Other Members scheduled to speak include the following:

  • Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (Crossbench), Disability adviser to the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health
  • Baroness Grey-Thompson (Crossbench), Executive Committee Member, British Wheelchair Sports Foundation with a strong political interest in disability rights
  • Baroness Wilkins (Labour), Co-Vice Chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability (HAFAD)
  • Baroness Thomas of Winchester (Liberal Democrat), Trustee, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign
  • Lord Rix (Crossbench), former Chair of the Monitoring Committee, Arts and Disabled People
  • Baroness Masham of Ilton (Crossbench), involvement with a wide number of charities for disabled people including President of the Spinal Injuries Association and Vice President of the Haemophilia Society and Riding for the Disabled  
  • Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat), Vice President, British Dyslexia Association
  • Baroness Browning (Conservative), former Opposition Spokesperson on Education and Employment (Education and Disability) with a strong political interest in education (special needs), mental health, learning disabilities
  • Lord McKenzie of Luton (Labour), Trustee, NOAH Enterprise (a homeless charity)
  • Lord Touhig (Labour), a strong political interest in health

Lord Taylor of Holbeach responded on behalf of the government in Lord Freud's absence.

Further information

The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.

Image: Press Association

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